James Martin and his friends dined at the Inn at Little Washington for his bachelor party. His bachelor party.
Martin and his wife then honeymooned in Spain, traveling to Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, which comes in very handy for his new job as executive chef at the forthcoming Pamplona. Though it’s named after the famed city in Basque country, Martin takes inspiration from dishes all over Spain for his menu, which he says is a “balance of that Spanish grandma soul and modern Spanish chefs.”
Looking to chefs Jose Andres (of the recently Michelin-starred Minibar in D.C) and the Roca brothers (of the internationally revered El Celler de Can Roca in Catalonia), Martin likes to play with perceptions. He plans to serve a churro for dinner, making the dough savory with butternut squash and black truffles, and to turn croquetas sweet for dessert.
Some dishes will remain mostly classic, like patatas bravas, though the accompanying aioli will be made with padron peppers. During the summer, when Martin spent time researching and planning the menu, he purchased 400 pounds of vegetables from Amish farms in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and returned to the kitchen to can tomatoes (150 pounds), pickle watermelons (40 pounds), turn plums into butter (20 pounds) and preserve the padrons (30 pounds). Naturally, Martin, who was born in D.C. and raised in Landover, Maryland, calls Pamplona a “farm-to-table Spanish restaurant.”
His sourcing secrets, which include finding Pennsylvania-grown artichokes, stem partly from his time at the first certified-organic restaurant in the country, Dupont Circle’s Restaurant Nora. (The owner, Nora Poulillion, announced last week she is retiring after almost 40 years.) After leaving Nora, Martin hosted a few pop-ups in the city before joining with The Social Restaurant Group. Previously, he’s worked at top-tier restaurants locally (Vidalia, Bistro Bis, Bourbon Steak) and across the country (Jean-Georges in New York and North Pond Restaurant in Chicago), but he started in the business at 14 working at Checkers, Five Guys, Dominos and the Daily Grill before heading to culinary school.
Other planned dishes include a pumpkin almond gazpacho, rabbit gnocchi, escabeche of smoked razor clams with hake ceviche, assorted bocadillos (sandwiches with housemade bread) and everything from $2 one-bite pintxos to $45 squid ink paella for two. There’s also the mind-bending olive oil honey ice cream with serrano ham, grilled bread, caperberries, arugula and sherry gastric, as well as saffron chocolate truffles (chocolate made in-house) breaded with saffron-churro crumbs.
The 70-seat restaurant with two small bars will offer beer and sangria on tap (with fruit garnish) and wines and ciders sourced from Spain.
Martin turns 30 next month. He’s thinking a lot about his life and where he wants to go, as milestone birthdays often force that sort of reflection. “I need to accomplish some goals,” he says. He mentions thinking about starting a family and being named to both local and national lists, like Food & Wine‘s Best New Chefs.
“We want to put Clarendon on the map,” he says.
But today, Martin needs to get back to directing the electricians on where to install outlets for the ice cream maker, the sous vide machine, the double convection oven, the cryovac machine … because this restaurant needs to open by the end of the year. That’s the first step. // Pamplona, 1132 19th St., Arlington